Calendar integration for the 21th century

This is my first post here, however I am long time Ubuntu user and Ubuntu is my ONLY operating system for years (even at my job).

My opinion is, that Ubuntu needs to greatly improve calendar and task management support in order to be more useful for business environment.

However, the story I am going to describe will show you what the underlying problem with Ubuntu is. I don’t want to be rude, but this is something that needs consideration of the Canonical and the whole community.

The problem is, that calendars integration in Ubuntu is quite poor. Especially, when we are talking about Google, Microsoft and other calendar providers integration.

Ubuntu has integrated Gnome Calendar, but Gnome Calendar has some serious and weird issues. For instance, someone probably decided to make Gnome Calendar more user friendly so Calendar app is stripped out all “unnecessary” options. Therefore you can not set time zone manually. Because Calendar app takes system time zone settings.

Which sounds very fine and user friendly. But it does not always work.

On my system (Ubuntu 20.04 LTS), I have this problem, because when I add new event to my Google calendar, Calendar app sets up Algiers time zone. (I assume this is because Algiers is first on the time zones list). So I need to grab my phone and correct the time zone. If not, I am missing my meetings. And you will probably agree this is quite bad user experience.

So I took a look about that on Ubuntu forums. There are some opened issues, Ubuntu developers even admitted the bug exists (bug has been confirmed), but Bug Watch Updater just changed bug status from “Confirmed” to “Expired”. And this was a few years ago. You will probably agree that this is also very bad user experience.

So I decided to open bug report on Gnome bug tracker. I mean, you should go directly to the soruce, no? Well, first they told me that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS has a very old version of Gnome Calendar, which is not supported anymore. So I should install a new version. This sounded a bit weird, because I am regularly updating my Ubuntu, but OK. Let’s do this.

Well, how to do that? No problem. Just go to the Ubuntu Software Center as install it from there.

Well, it turns out, that there are several different versions of Gnome Calendar in Ubuntu repositories (I just checked, right now, I can see three (!) versions). The old one is DEB package, the newer one is Flatpak. Why is that so? You will probably agree that this is also very bad user experience.

After some wandering around I installed the most new version. Via Flatpak. So I run the new version, and tried to add my Google calendar account. Well… nothing happened. So I tried again, and again… I went to the Gnome bug tracker ranting about that… and I gave up. I tried to install the old version back, but now that is not possible anymore. Some weird errors, I opened the console, tried this, tried that… so I decided it is time to upgrade Ubuntu to non-LTS version.

Well, here we go. Run the updater, and… as you probably guessed, I got an error. “An unresolvable problem occurred while calculating the upgrade.” OK, so I did some research and found out the problem is with PPA’s. So I removed all PPA’s from my system, run sudo do-release-upgrade again, and still got the same error. Yes, you guessed what I am thinking. Very bad user experience.

So I am stuck again. What to do now? Should I report a bug?

Yes. Did that. Launchpad Janitor confirmed the bug (because the bug affects multiple users). But… that is it. Nothing happened yet. But OK, let’s be patient. I am still young. :slight_smile:

Doing all this, I rebooted my system several times. And then something strange has happened. I clicked on the Calendar app icon. And found out I have multiple Google calendar accounts entered in the Calendar app.

Now I can see the light! When you add new calendar account, you need to reboot the whole machine, not just the Calendar app! Well, that is really something new. The whole new level of BAD user experience.

In my deep anger I went to Gnome bug tracker and complained about that, but the developers just politely told me that Flatpak and Snap versions are sandboxed applications and that they cannot interact with other system stuff. And that have no idea how Flatpak applications interact with system stuff on Ubuntu as I they don’t run Ubuntu. And they added the word “sorry”. Despite that, I saw a big “F*** you” instead.

Yes. Very bad user experience.

But hey, after so much pain, at least I have a working Caledar app now! And I can reboot my system as much as I like (or need to). :slight_smile:

But the story is not finished yet.

While trying to fix my problems with Calendar app, I entered my Google account into Thunderbird. Thunderbird calendar integration is also very poor, UX is quite bad, but at least I can see my upcoming events.

So now I am happily using Calendar app AND Thunderbird. And then, I received ICS attachment with invitation to an event… (For those not knowing, ICS file contains an event description in iCal format. You can send someone event invitation and the receiver can easily accept the invitation and adds it to her or his calendar).

I must admit, I receive several event invitations. You know, meetings, especially after the first COVID-19 lockdowns.

However, the procedure for me in the past has been the following. I received the e-mail on my computer and on my iPhone. So I grab my phone, open the e-mail with invitation, click on ICS attachment and add the event to my Google calendar. Not very handy, I would prefer doing this with my Ubuntu computer, but I works.

So I started thinking… why I can’t add event invitation to my Google calendar with Thunderbird?

And it turned out, I can! But not the way I thought it should be…

If I click to “accept invitation” button in Thunderbird, event is in fact added to my calendar. But NOT my Google calendar (even I added my calendar account in Thunderbird!) but to my very special “personal calendar”, which is visible only in Thunderbird. Eventhought my Google calendar is configured as default calendar.

Yes, someone in Thunderbird (or Lighthing extension) probably decided, that clouds are baaaad (and I even agree with them!) so you can not add calendar invites to any other calendar, but the only blessed by developers, which is your very personal calendar available in Thunderbird only. Yes, it is not even available system wide…

So… it seems as bad user experience as well.

However, there is a solution. After all, we are talking about Linux, right?

Yes, there is a solution, but not the easy one. It requires manually editing Thunderbird preferences (after clicking on scary “I will be careful, I promise” button). And it requires restarting Thunderbird. Twice!

Quite bad user experience, right?

But here we are, now I can click on calendar invitation and a nice pop-up appears, asking me which calendar should process the event.

So I enjoyed my system Calendar app and Thunderbird processing of event invitations and life seems to be good. But then something terrible happened.

I got a phone call from my boss. “Can you organize a meeting?”. Organize? Me?

That means I have to send iCal invitatons!

But… it shouldn’t be hard, right?

I turned out it is quite hard. I simply couldn’t find an option to create event invitation from Thunderbird. Right-click on event entry – no clues.

After some wondering, I found out, that in fact I can drag the event in Thunderbird and drop it to new mail window, but it is inserted as a text and not as iCal attachment, so on the other side it is not processed as an invitation.

OK, quick, but dirty solution is, that I copy the text from e-mail body to text editor, save a file with .ics attachment and attach the file to an e-mail.

Not very user friendly, but I suppose it is good for my arms and fingers.

Oh, yes, I also found KOrganizer. Which has an option to right-click on event and then you can send an e-mail invitation. Well… sort of. Because I never succeeded. I entered my SMTP account settings, but KOrganizer said it can not send emails with some weird error message mentioning D-BUS which cannot connect to mail proxy or something.

Some people told me I should try Evolution. Well, I am open to new things, but Evolution is know of some bad history and it is also not default mail client in Ubuntu.

So, to conclude. I would really like that developers give a little more attention to calendar integration in Ubuntu. Because, as I see things, calendar and task management in business world
is very important. Especially when we all try to work online. And if we want Ubuntu to be useful for business users, calendar integration is important.
Anyway, it would be nice to get some feedback from developers, maybe even from Mark Shuttleworth.

Thanks for reading so far. :slight_smile:

Calendaring/Mail has always been a weak point, there’s not a ton of development happening in this space. I use Office 365 for work and I’ve tried everything, Evolution works via EWS, but even when it’s working perfectly the UX hasn’t caught up with the modern web clients. I’ve tried 2(!) paid extensions for Thunderbird each with their own various problems.

I’ve had ok success with minetime plus Mailspring. Bluemail works well but doesn’t have a robust calendar.

None of them are stable enough to set up a meeting with without embarrassing yourself at work, so I settled on Prospect Mail, which wraps the Office 365 webapps in an icon/window on your desktop and integrates the notifications.

Thanks for your reply. I will look at these alternatives.

However, my main question is: is there any intention from Canonical or community to put some effort into this?

I can’t speak for Canonical but I don’t see them doing that and I personally prefer that they use their resources regarding GNOME for performance optimizations, polishing and packaging/testing, as they do now. That said, my impression from the last talks and posts by Allan Day is that GNOME is going to prioritize integration with online services, so I wouldn’t expect a full fledged desktop counterpart of already existing services but a 80/20 solution that is simple (even simplistic) and smoothly integrates with the third party service. I believe he is right and this would be the best use of scarce resources. There are many important problems yet to be resolved in the Linux desktop (full Wayland adopting, fractional scaling, multi-dpi multi-screen settings, screen sharing on top of pipewire, snap/flatpak polishing and adoption, etc etc etc).

In my experience, integration with Google Calendar has been good so far.

PS: it would be polite if you provided a TL;DR because your post is way too long and rather anecdotal.

You only dedicate one tiny paragraph to the best solution: Evolution.

Evolution supports multiple accounts, which you activate via ‘Online Accounts’ in GNOME, has an integrated calendar, supports Exchange Web Server.

When you go to your System Setting, you can change both the default email client and calendar to Evolution.

I do understand why Ubuntu has GNOME Calendar and Thunderbird as the default though, as it is aimed toward your average user and because the use of an email client is declining.

For users who need this little bit more, like you, I’d say: use Evolution as your one-stop shop.

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Yea, sorry for my long post, I wanted it to be a little bit “poetical”.

Anyway, I completely understand that there are some technical priorities… but for average business user Wayland in much less important as good integration with calendars, business clouds, etc.

Basically, main question is, do we rather want technically perfect product or more adoption of Linux among the users.

I used to be a “technologist”, but now I see that usability for average user is also important…

enterprises are probably a lot more interested in avoiding keyloggers that hook into ancient X11 bugs than to have native email/calendar clients that they can serve centrally via a web service anyway.

while i agree in general that calendar integration on the desktop should be better, i think the comparison to wayland which enhances security a lot is rather a bad choice :wink:

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Yes, I agree, it was bad comparison from my side.

Anyway, are the big enterprises really Linux user base? I think more realistic scenario are small (one man band) companies, who would quickly consider using Linux instead of Windows.

The best way to manage calendars in Gnome is Evolution at the moment. Gnome calendar is pretty and all but it lacks a lot of features, just like you described. Even simple things like adding attendees to calendar events in google calendars or timezone-awareness which you also mentioned.

Evolution integrates with Online Accounts, which Thunderbird does not. And therefore it integrates with your notification area. The one thing it doesn’t do for me is to detect online meeting links and offer a button in response (like you would see on calendar events directly at google calendar’s site).

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